I just finished watching the video of a public debate recently held in England on the proposition: "The Catholic Church is a Force for Good in the World." As a Catholic who ardently believes in the truth of that proposition, this was an exchange that was not pleasant to watch. There was so much at stake vis-a-vis public opinion that was swayed in the wrong direction as a result. It could have had a much different outcome.
The two Catholics who defended the debate proposition were Nigerian Archbishop John Onaiyekan and British MP Anne Widdecombe. The two men denying the proposition were the accomplished homosexual actor Stephen Fry and world-famous atheist author and commentator Christopher Hitchens.
— I'm sorry for the auto-play on the video. To stop it, click the "pause" button. —
The regrettable truth is that this debate was, as atheist polemicist Richard Dawkins termed it, a rout. Fry and Hitchens are clearly vastly superior rhetoricians, masters of the English language both, and they homed in relentlessly and with devastating effect on many white-hot hot-button issues that are neither easy to explain quickly (this debate was geared for quick sound bites, a skill that Hitchens has honed to an art form, by the way) nor palatable to the majority of people today (i.e., The World).
I applaud and am sincerely grateful to both Archbishop Onaiyekan and Ms. Widdecombe for their courageous efforts to publicly explain and defend the Catholic Church and Her teachings, but they were simply not prepared for this encounter. God bless them for their willingness, though, to stand up for the Faith in a very hostile environment. I truly admire them for that.
And yet, we can do better, much, much better, than that in public debates with those who take up the cudgel against the Catholic Church. And if we're going to have any chance of winning the souls of the "undecideds," we had better set about making our case as effectively and as vigorously and as soon as possible. If we don't, the tide of opposition to Truth will continue to swell.
Which brings me to my impromptu list of Madrid's Rules for Debating.
Rule 1: Don't be afraid to fight the good fight, but understand that, nowadays, it may become a street-fight.Rule 2: If you're going to street-fight, you had better know how to street fight.Rule 3: Always adhere to the Pell Protocol — If you're going fight, fight to win.
If ever there is ever another opportunity to hold such a public debate with Fry and Hitchens and two Catholics, I would like to suggest that the Catholic Church's defenders include some combination of the following street fighters and rhetorical heavyweights:
Peter Kreeft, Benjamin Wiker, Robert George, Dinesh D'Souza (who has debated Christopher Hitchens quite effectively many times), Helen Alvare, Alan Keyes, Father John Corapi, or Dr. Scott Hahn. There are other worthy contenders, to be sure, but these folks are an excellent start.
Any combination of these stalwarts would result in a much different kind of debate than what we see in this video. And I'd definitely want to be in the audience for that debate!
Watch and learn: